May 01, 2015

Should Natives boycott Netflix?

Natives debate whether to boycott Netflix because of The Ridiculous 6, its racist Adam Sandler movie.

Yes, Unsubscribe From Netflix: These Small Steps Matter for Native Self-Esteem

By Gyasi RossWord to the wise: Adam Sandler is not going to magically start making intelligent movies. Promise. He is too rich and arrogant and unspiritual to realize that an organization created by individuals within his culture—the Anti-Defamation League, started by Jewish Americans—was started precisely to combat the kinds of portrayals of Jewish people as his movie made of Natives in The Ridiculous Six. He doesn’t care that he’s a hypocrite and that’s why he hasn’t responded—he’s rich!

Apparently spirituality and conscience goes out the window when one acquires wealth. If that’s the case, I honestly hope I never get rich.

Anyway, that’s not a surprise. What IS surprising is the lame, condescending and tired excuse provided by Netflix—that, essentially, Native people are “in on the joke.” This is more troubling than Sandler’s idiocy—at least he’s staying true to form. Netflix, however, is breaking new ground and flaunting the sad truth that they don’t mind swimming in the water of SO many other patriarchal, arrogant white folks in relation to Native people—they’re talking for us, telling us how we feel. This is an extension of the Justice John Marshall “domestic, dependent nations” logic, that somehow Native people are unqualified to feel for ourselves and tell others how we feel.

We Natives need someone to interpret the way we feel for us. Like a ward needs his guardian.

Let me be honest—I LOVE Netflix. I hope Netflix does the right thing! I have had Netflix for years and dig their distribution model and up until last week’s condescension to Native people, I’ve watched Jack Reacher on Netflix at least once a week for the past year. But life is full of uncomfortable decisions and those brave actresses and actors literally put their careers on the line for the sake of integrity—the least I can do it put Jack Reacher up for a little while. You folks inspired me. And those brave actresses and actors, whether that was their intent or not, said that it is NOT OK for non-Natives to speak for Native people (or even for Native people to speak for other Natives as has happened during other social justice movements). Condoning white people speaking for us is arrogant, it’s ugly and it’s a throwback to a time when Native people simply did not have the access to media that we do today.

Therefore, until Netflix chooses to acknowledge Native voices and meet and confer with members of our community in a public forum, I’m getting off of Netflix. I encourage you folks to do the same—they do not value your opinions and don’t even acknowledge when a group of Native people asks them to consider a reasonable position.”
Young: 'No, I Will Not Deactivate My Netflix Account'

By Brian YoungNetflix is a company. It’s not a person with which can be reasoned. It will not understand a conversation on how degrading and damaging ‘injun’ stereotypes can be (I’ll recommend a movie that addresses that. It’s also on Netflix!). As a company, Netflix understands numbers. Yes, the more people that deactivate their accounts, the louder the message they’ll hear. That’s forcing them to our will, not educating them to our cause. The latter will have a much longer lasting effect. We as a unified movement have that power to either force them or education them. We have to education them. While forcing them to our will might reap short term effects, such as canceling “The Ridiculous Six,” we must think of the long run and what long term effects we can achieve.

Hollywood, and by extension Netflix and Adam Sandler, do not care about the representation of Native Americans. Since its birth, Hollywood and its byproducts have never been about telling our stories. Hollywood is a business that understands ratings, viewing numbers and consumer demand. Adam Sandler, and other big name Hollywood actors, are attached to projects to reduce risk so that investors will have more confidence that their initial investment will reap financial returns once the movie is released. What does that mean for Native films? Hollywood, unfortunately, thinks that Native films do not have a market and thusly are a high-risk, low return financial investment. In other words, Native films are a waste of money.

This is why I am imploring you to not deactivate your account. Instead, watch a film made by a Native person. There are many, many great films that you can watch. As of right now, in the United States Netflix streaming catalog, you can watch Neil Diamond’s “Reel Injun,” a documentary about ‘injun’ stereotypes, Jeff Barnaby’s “Rhymes for Young Ghouls,” (every single millisecond oozes style and captivates); Sterlin Harjo’s latest film, “This May Be The Last Time;” the classic, “Smoke Signals,” and “Jimmy P”–not necessarily a Native film, but a film about a Native, starring Benicio Del Toro.

Several movies in Netflix’s DVD catalog include, “The Lesser Blessed” (watch this!), and the above mentioned “Boy” and “Bran Nue Dae,” and “Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story.” There’s even “Longmire,” which have Native actors (yours truly included, again shameless self-promotion). Heck, even “Breaking Bad” has Jeremiah Bitsui, a Navajo actor.
Young even started a petition:

Expand your native films and produce more native content

By Brian YoungDepictions such as those found in “The Ridiculous Six” support the fallacy that Native Americans and Native American women are less than human. Racial stereotyping leads to racial discrimination. Racial discrimination leads to racially charged violence. The overly sexualized depiction of Native American woman, as seen with “Beaver Breath”, “Sits-On-Face” and the phrase “We go someplace and I put my peepee in your teepee” supports the notion that Native American woman are animalistic, inhuman, and promiscuous. The combination of racial stereotyping and the hyper sexualized depiction of Native American women can only create an ideology that leads to the increased violence against this population. These impacts cannot be hidden behind the guise of levity. The jokes in “The Ridiculous Six” are harmful, dangerous, and nowhere near satirical.

To combat the negative stereotyping of Native Americans, we are demanding that you support Native American filmmakers, actors, producers, directors, and films in general. To do so, we ask that you expand your native film selections. As a distribution company, you are constantly seeking to expand your catalog so as to better your customer experience. Native Americans are also a part of your customer base, as evident in the social media campaigns #WalkOffNetflix and #VivaNativeCinema. By expanding your catalog with Native films, you will present an accurate representation of Native Americans and Native American women, thus reducing racial stereotyping to your 30 million subscription base. We would like to suggest some titles that would be an asset to your DVD and streaming catalog: Lee Tamahori’s Once We Were Warriors, Bruce McDonald’s Dance Me Outside, Anne Makepeace’s We Still Live Here, Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River (on stream, already available on DVD), Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee (on stream, already available on DVD), Peter Stebbing’s Empire of Dirt, Georgina Lightning’s Older Than America, the Aboriginal t.v. series Mohawk Girls, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s On The Ice, Rick Derby’s Rocks With Wings, Steve Barron’s DreamKeeper, Shonie and Andee De La Rosa’s Mile Post 398, Niki Caro’s Whale Rider (on stream, already available on DVD), and Sara McIntyre’s Two Indians Talking. These suggestions serve as only a beginning, as this list is in no way inclusive or final. Native American filmmakers are continuing to create and produce films as we write this petition, and this demographic will only continue to grow.
Comment:  A boycott won't work because Netflix isn't a person? But a petition will? Alas, Young's position is inconsistent.

Boycotts and petitions aren't attempts to reason with a company. Rather, they're attempts to influence a company by bringing market pressures to bear.

In particular, they're attempts to influence the bean-counters in charge of the bottom line. Whether the company has a "conscience" and acts for moral reasons is almost irrelevant.

As long as the company stops its racism, we don't much care about its motivation. Changing the harmful behavior is the first and most necessary step. Educating the company about its mistakes is secondary.

Besides, being forced to publicly admit one's mistakes and change one's policies is inherently educational. When you punish a child or a pet, you don't necessarily have to explain your reasoning. The punishment alone educates the child or pet not to do wrong again.

That said, a boycott or a petition probably won't have much effect. Netflix's streaming service has some 30 million subscribers. I doubt they'd even notice the actions of a few hundred protesters.

For more on Adam Sandler, see #NotYourHollywoodIndian and Native Actors Denounce Sandler.

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